WASHINGTON (The Blaze/AP) — Oscar-winning director James Cameron had to cut his six hour trip in the deepest place on Earth — the Mariana Trench — to just three hours due to a leak, which means he didn’t collect the samples he had expected. He did bring back visual feedback of what he saw in the the last frontier.
What was down there? Honestly, not that much. Still, Cameron described it as out-of-this-world, desolate, foreboding and moon-like.
Cameron, who knows a little about alien worlds having made the movie “Avatar,” said when he got to this strange cold, dark place 7 miles below the western Pacific Ocean that only two other men have been to, there was one thing he promised to himself: He wanted to drink in how unusual it is.
“There had to be a moment where I just stopped, and took it in, and said, `This is where I am; I’m at the bottom of the ocean, the deepest place on Earth. What does that mean?'” Cameron told reporters during a Monday conference call after spending three hours at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, nearly 7 miles down.
“I just sat there looking out the window, looking at this barren, desolate lunar plain, appreciating,” Cameron said.
He also realized how alone he was, with that much water above him.
“It’s really the sense of isolation, more than anything, realizing how tiny you are down in this big vast black unknown and unexplored place,” Cameron said.
Cameron said he had hoped to see some strange deep sea monster like a creature that would excite the storyteller in him and seem like out of his movies, but he didn’t.
He didn’t see tracks of animals on the sea floor as he did when he dove more than 5 miles deep weeks ago. All he saw were voracious shrimp-like critters that weren’t bigger than an inch.
According to National Geographic, Cameron said, “I didn’t feel like I got to a place where I could take interesting geology samples or found anything interesting biologically.”
But that was OK, he said, it was all about exploration, science and discovery. He is the only person to dive there solo, using a sub he helped design. He is the first person to reach that depth — 35,576 feet — since it was initially explored in 1960.
What could Cameron have expected to find? According to the project’s website, along with the crustaceans noted by Cameron, sea cucumbers, snail fish, single-celled Xenophyophores, mollusks and some cynrdarians have been observed at those depths. Watch this clip from NatGeo of “giant amoebas” that have been previously seen in the trench:
He spent more than three hours at the bottom, longer than the 20 minutes Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard spent in the only other visit 52 years ago. But it was less than the six hours he had hoped.
He spent time filming the Mariana Trench, which is about 200 miles southwest of the Pacific island of Guam. The trip down to the deepest point took two hours and 36 minutes, starting Sunday afternoon U.S. East Coast time.
This NatGeo clip shows Cameron’s trip in a condensed minute highlighting where life would be present along the way in the descent:
His return aboard his 12-ton, lime-green sub called Deepsea Challenger was a “faster-than-expected 70-minute ascent,” according to National Geographic, which sponsored the dive.
National Geographic has more on why Cameron’s trip was cut short:
“I saw a lot of hydraulic oil come up in front of the port. The port got coated with it,” he explained.
Cameron had planned to collect rock and animal samples with the sub’s mechanical arm, but with the leak, “I couldn’t pick anything up, so I began to feel like it was a moment of diminishing returns to go on.”
Finally, he said, “I lost a lot of thrusters. I lost the whole starboard side. That’s when I decided to come up. I couldn’t go any further—I was just spinning in a circle.”
Earlier, an issue with the sub’s sonar system had scuttled the launch of a baited, unmanned “lander.”
The lander was supposed to touch down at Challenger Deep hours before Cameron’s arrival and attract deep-ocean predators and scavengers.
But without the sonar system working properly, finding the lander would have been difficult, explained Doug Bartlett, chief scientist for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE project, a partnership with the National Geographic Society and Rolex. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
Cameron said he plans on returning to the depths though.
“I see this as the beginning,” Cameron said. “It’s not a one-time deal and then moving on. This is the beginning of opening up this new frontier.”
“To me, the story is in the people in their quest and curiosity and their attempt to understand,” Cameron said.
Watch National Geographic’s teaser for more information to come from Cameron’s trip: